This article was updated on April 6, 2016.
As one of the brands with the lowest level of customer satisfaction, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) does not have a reputation for being nice to its customers.
This is a brand famous for "convenient" four-hour appointment windows, charging rent on cable modems that customers could buy for much less than they ultimately spend, and occasionally harassing a subscriber who tries to cancel his service. Though it has pledged to change -- and there are clear signs that it's making a sincere effort to do so -- throughout most of its history Comcast has been an anti-consumer company.
Since past experience generally serves as a good indicator for future behavior, Comcast's well-earned reputation should make any customer wary of a gift from the company. That may not be fair given how much money and effort the company has recently put into changing its image, but it takes a lot of good behavior to overcome years of mistreatment.
Comcast, however, is doing its part to change from operating like it still has a monopoly to working in a world where at least some consumers have choices. That reality has pushed the company to give a large group of subscribers faster Internet access at no extra charge.
Why is Comcast doing this?
At first glance, any gift from a cable company/Internet service provider has to be checked for tricks. This is an industry famous for forcing people to buy channels they neither want nor need in order to get the ones they do, so anything that seems like generosity raises a red flag.
In this case, however, Comcast is not playing games and it's not gussying up some new insult to its subscribers as a positive thing. The company is actually giving faster Internet to some users without charging a penny more.
The move, of course, is not being done out of altruism -- and nobody would expect it to be. Comcast has increased the speed of its Internet service in certain markets to fend off rivals including the looming threat of Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Fiber. The search giant's service threatens not just the cable leader's ISP business, but also its cable offering.
What is Comcast doing exactly?
The Cable and Internet provider has increased the speeds for many of its customers in the western half of the United States. The company explained its actions in an Oct. 8, 2015, press release.
Comcast today announced it is increasing Internet speeds with the introduction of a new Performance Pro speed tier of 75 Mbps and Blast! Pro speed tier of 150 Mbps. Customers who subscribe to many popular XFINITY bundles will now receive either Performance Pro, increasing their download speeds from 50 Mbps to 75 Mbps, or Blast! Pro, increasing their speeds from 105 Mbps to 150 Mbps, an increase of nearly 50 percent.
Technically, that's not as fast as Google Fiber, which offers speeds "up to 1,000 megabits per second," according to its website, but for most people 75Mbps will be plenty fast unless the whole family decides to download movies on multiple devices at the same time.
For context, my house has service which steadily tests out at 20Mbps and I can watch a streaming movie while surfing the Internet with no lag or buffering. These super-fast speeds are really for very heavy users or more likely content yet-to-come that eats up greater bandwidth (like 4K video).
Comcast has not announced specific plans to bring higher speeds to its other markets, but it has been investing heavily in network upgrades.
To get the faster speeds, all most customers have to do is restart their cable modems. In some cases a new modem will be required and customers who lease their modem from Comcast will be notified and offered a new one, without any additional charge. People who own their own modem can check to see if theirs can handle the new speeds here.
Google and Comcast continue to spar
For Comcast, it's not just about upping speeds for its regular service, the company will also offer its own fiber-based product in some markets (generally ones where it expects Google to come calling). That's what's happening now in Atlanta where Comcast is already in operation with a fiber product and Google is on its way.
In that market Comcast has been aggressive about signing customers up, offering better deals with no data caps for people who sign long-term contracts.
That tactic sounds more like the cable/Internet giant most of us know and don't like very much, but it's a smart play. Basically the company is trying to take customers off the board before its rival has a product in place to compete for them.
It's a new day at Comcast
While it took the company a long time to get here, Comcast has finally stopped acting like consumers have no other options. Of course, in some cases, they actually don't, but changing technologies will eventually eliminate the monopolies once enjoyed by the major cable and Internet providers.
Giving people better service without charging them more can start to heal old wounds and win back customer loyalty. Ultimately that could help Comcast build a subscriber base that chooses to use it rather than one forced into doing so by lack of other choices.
Yes, Comcast can still be ruthless (as we're seeing in Atlanta) but it does seem to have learned from its past. This is a small step on the road to winning the public's trust, but it's an important one that shows the company has learned from its past errors.